Cyber scammers are on the prowl – let’s not make it easy for them

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Cyber threats can be kept at bay much of the time with a few elementary precautions… and then some more. Image Credit: Shutterstock

‘I’ve fallen victim to an online scam’ is something we’ve started hearing quite a lot in the last year. While scammers have always been a bane of the online experience, what’s interesting is how sophisticated they have become.

Gone are the days when you would only receive lofty claims from pretend-princes leaving you their inheritance through emails riddled with grammatical errors. Today’s scammers are often successful at convincing most people of their legitimacy by mimicking popular websites and services. But this doesn’t mean that scammers have stopped trying to bait you with promises of million-dollar wins. So, if it’s too good to be true…

Sophisticated scammers usually target well-known brands, which consumers engage with on a daily basis. Financial institutions, telecom services and e-commerce platforms are particularly vulnerable. Since many of these involve attempts to procure sensitive financial information, it has become extremely important to take all necessary precautions.

Links to nowhere

The UAE Government is taking appropriate measures to control such fraud, but it’s equally crucial for all to be cautious when putting out their information. There are many important things to look out for when engaging with emails/texts/WhatsApp messages that ask you to click on links. There are three main ways cammers usually target users:

Check the spellings for giveaways

The first type of phishing scams are via email, where a user is sent an email requesting personal information. Usually, these are sent from a public address (gmail, yahoo, etc) and not from a legitimate company address. The link that is sent will usually have a typo or extensions that vary from the name of the company. You can also spot typos and grammatical errors in some instances.

The second type are SMS scams. Look out for text messages from international numbers or private phone numbers.

Another type of scam is done through phone calls. These are usually from international numbers or an unknown mobile number. Such callers generally request for personal information that you may have already submitted on the actual website.

Make sure you ask questions while receiving such calls and refrain from giving out any personal details. You can even get in touch with the brand on your own to confirm the legitimacy of the call.

Some ways to detect scam communication is by looking for small but significant details, such as grammatical errors in the messages. Check if the message you recieve is consistent with previous communications. Unlike official messages, scam emails have a sense of urgency. They usually incite you to take an action with click-bait titles about limited time offers or account closures.

And if you click…

Usually these links are harmless if you just click on them. Although, there are instances where these malicious links direct you to download malware that can infect your device and send information to remote servers. This could potentially record your keystrokes and transmit data to an unauthorised device.

If you realise you’ve clicked on a suspicious link, change the passwords of your important accounts. If you have shared your bank details, contact your bank and get your card blocked immediately.

Most servers are secure and ask permission before downloading files or accessing geolocations, but it is best to take the necessary precautions if you think your safety has been compromised.

On the surface, profile data that is available for the public on social media profiles are used by companies to sell data to advertisers. Credit card information can be used by scammers to steal under your name.

Data such as your date of birth, mother’s maiden name etc can be used to access your email or bank account. This data can be used for identity theft, where scammers impersonate a person to fool more people into giving up their info.

Avoiding being scammed

Always verify the identity of callers before you share any data with them. While online, make sure the website you’re visiting is authentic and has the right URL.

Always pay attention to communications that request personal information, and avoid sharing this information before verifying the source’s authenticity. To be on the safe side, make sure you read through every communication you receive before making any transactions. Usually, you can detect the signs of suspicious activity from the presence of typos and grammatical errors in such emails or messages.

To protect your phones, download apps which identify spam and scam callers such as TrueCaller, Hiya Caller ID, etc and block these numbers. Make sure your passwords are well protected and create strong passwords that cannot be easily guessed.

Keep your devices’ browsers and operating system up to date, to ensure that you receive security updates and avoid being susceptible to attacks. Install antivirus and anti-malware software as an additional security measure.

Scammers are always on the lookout for soft targets, keeping up with the times and evolving their phishing scams to bait unsuspecting users. It is up to us, as users, to be cautious about the communications we receive and stay alert.

Haris Ali Khan

The writer is is Head of Engineering at dubizzle.